Cuban soccer: the history, the game and the system

By: Armando Javier Díaz

To my right, under a cup of coffee, there is a bunch of papers printed on both sides. Each of them shows, in its way, postcards of a sad and stuttering history: the history of Cuban soccer. I will not go to the limit in each review, chronic or article, because there is no thread , no order, no keywords, or anything, and because understanding the life of Cuban soccer as a compact and not as a scattered anecdotal record is work for fossils trackers.

However, a brief analysis of specific issues puts me in terms of conclusions. First: Cuban soccer has a lot to say as it began being officially practiced nine years after the emergence of the Real Madrid and seven after FIFA. Second: each podium obtained by Cuban squads is connected 80-85 percent with multiple events. Therefore, and third: the Cuban s occer, especially after 1959, has strived to compete for things that mean little in the world of soccer.

I follow my thought: from 1959 the Cuban sport, for reasons that everyone knows, gave a remarkable leap. In soccer, discipline supported by Spanish societies set an important base in Cuba during the first half of the twentieth century; no progress (the opposite) has ever felt. My parents did not think being born at that time, but I will imagine that in the 1950s and 1960s the Brazilian team of Pele, Garrincha, Zagallo and Carlos Alberto revolutionized the world soccer at such a level that even with the material and intellectual support from the Soviet Union we were able to highlight in the area. Some might not yet understand how a team that won four Central American Games almost consecutively (1970, 1974, 1978 and 1986) cannot even get closer to a World Cup. I, on the other hand, do know it (read above).

Baseball stadiums and sports initiation schools were erected throughout Cuba from nowhere. A soccer stadium has not yet built, not even the equivalent of Granma’s Martyrs of Barbados Ballpark, to just mention an example. Even today the official practice of soccer in our country lives of many originally designed for athletics spaces.

Another topic : the revolution triumphed and sport becomes part of the omnipresent counterpoint between Cuba and “Western powers”. I will not be the one who discovered it. Unlike baseball, boxing and athletics, Brazilians, Argentines and Uruguayans were always the best in soccer terms. Until not long ago the United States ever cared about soccer , therefore, it seems that as this sport was not the stage to legitimize such a confrontation: so it was disdained.

1970s, 1980s and 1990s: Some foreign coaches assume the bench of our national team. In 1976 Montreal Olympics we achieved a goalless draw against the Poland squad of Lato, Deyna and Tomaszewski (Third place in Germany 1974 WC) and years later we qualified to two U-17 WCs (1989 and 1991).

I’ll skip and continue omitting to pass from the twentieth to the 21st century. A miscellany: the Cuban team still lacks an emblem – or its emblem is the flag, which in soccer has never been fashionable. If the Ciego de Avila buffaloes have their logo, though it is a vague imitation of their counterparts of Chicago, in the NBA, Cuban soccer squad should have it, although it would be based on that of Puerto Rico. If in any case that emblem should be the logo of the Cuban Football Association, it should be already embroidered to the shirt as their similar of the rest of the world. Someone can think these are minor things, and they really are, but they should serve, moreover, to start from scratch, which is what we still don’t manage to do.

Competitive areas: the National Championship has never been a top class event in our country, but it is worse now than what it was a decade ago. Cuba, for things and cases, is not yet inserted into the FIFA match days, but Zambia does it. People, many people, call the radio asking for an equivalent of FIFA match days for baseball, which can not have it because IBAF is not FIFA and because baseball, even it is our passion, is followed in the world because it is the national sport of the United States and because there is MLB despite there are no more than 15 countries showing real quality all around the world.

Current affairs: Cuban U-21 squad reaches the Central American and Caribbean Games of Veracruz 2014 and dazzles the whole people, including the part that has always been, almost by genetic predisposition, illiterate in soccer terms (Those calling the radio asking for more baseball international friendly matches, less Premier League football on TV and more baseball from Korea and Taipei). Another national team, the senior one, which bears upon itself the centenary weight of never having qualified to a world cup by its own right (We attended France 1938 automatically after several countries of the region declined to participate), dragged a month ago in the Caribbean Cup and barely achieved a ticket to the 2015 Gold Cup. Indeed, several of the U21 players become indispensable to me in any domestic team to be made.

I stop here. It seems that in Cuba soccer has always been an anti-system sport, a renegade from the structures of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation ( INDER by its Spanish acronym). The cause: bad (or no) management. Perhaps Cuban soccer is not as important as other sports and that of being Olympic champion does not distinguish as it should, but here there has always been in a second level, as if there were people fearful of an incursion of soccer in major competitive instances to derive, irrevocably, into a crisis of paradigms.

While some disciplines sweep in the ruling popular preferences showing nothing and living of comfort provided by the media here to sporting contests of third and fourth level, soccer only traps the eye of the radical baseball side, the one marking trends that has not given nor a decent ground in over half a century, when a national team has an unexpected performance. A script, moreover, thoroughly prepared to work with certain disciplines, albeit the less.

Anyway, occasionally Cuban soccer has starred good performances, because talent, raw, has never lacked, especially since the Ronaldos – I, II and III – Zidane, Messi and company slipped into the small screen. In this century, for example, we had a correct process under Peruvian coach Miguel Company (2001-2004) and attended a junior world cup for the first time in post-Soviet era. Logically, the attempts only fall dropper because in soccer improvisation is paid with delay and the top is only reached by professionals conceived here, long ago, as exponents of merchandising sport.

The worst is that currently many other disciplines, once successful for our country, joined the lent and are now slightly trading in the national sports bag. They now know how it feels when, by decree; you get out the territorial division before starting the war because there are all-embracing bodies bluffing with very little and are beyond good and evil too.

But let’s go back to soccer. Now, with mediation of television (which needs to fill its schedules with ultrasonic level sports to avoid the abyss), soccer has become a fever. Even fashion and merchandising have made it a wink. Talent flows as water in the streets. There is no sport in Cuba, right now, being played everywhere on such a scale. I can hardly believe that children from Peru or Panama to play better soccer than ours, it’s not possible, I do not think so, and no one is born footballer, or ballplayer, or water polo player. The leak lies in other place.

U-21 matter: I, finally a fan, also see something special in this generation, which is showing different things from their previous of any category. I will always be happy with its performance at the Central American Games, but not only for the medal or the match against Mexico, but because it was ambitious, it convinced, enjoyed and respected the game from its playful essence – governmental institutions, NGOs and mass organizations outside any tactical system – was no less than anyone in Veracruz. They showed their commitment, with themselves and with the people who follow and that supports them.

For these days, as part of the activities for the day of Cuban soccer, some invented motives for celebration and something else, like if a bronze medal at the Central American Games would certify the success of an endemic model, which remains the same wayward always. I, however, prefer to analyze reality coldly, without triumphalism. The Central American Games finished. We enjoyed the performance of the soccer to the rapture, we will never forget it! Perfect. It is a historical fact, too, for the period of postmodern soccer, OK. The Messi -Cristiano era, positive. This is a generation with projection, like no other in a while. It can get stagnated, and it will do it without a proper management. News of transfer or contracting are not known (everything is managed under the table so that anything to be leaked through the “weekly package”). Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras and Venezuela, are over Cuba in soccer terms, high above. The World Cup is sighted on the horizon; there is no horizon yet – if there is it, it lies in the U21s.

What happened in Veracruz can set a pattern (like the U-20 WC in Turkey should do), but this cannot be the end. Living of the past without seeing beyond today is for losers and defeat, body and form, involves more than the mere fact of not winning. In soccer as in other sports, we still have to learn that the feat or failure are often oblivious to the color of the medals, otherwise, Cuban soccer will continue to live of stories and scattered or spaced in decades anecdotal compendiums, or centuries. The road to the World Cup is not as long as we can see from here. There is no evil that lasts a hundred years, but history is also nourished from that, paper, time and space. If not so, history would be anything.

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